Some 65 years after a band of foreign volunteers took to the skies to ensure Israel’s birth and survival, filmmakers are racing to bring their exploits to the screen before the last of the breed passes away.
Among the competing producers and their financial backers are such famous names as Spielberg and Lansky. And though their budgets fall well short of Hollywood blockbuster standards, their competitive spirits are just as intense.
Nancy Spielberg, the youngest of Steven Spielberg’s three sisters, is the producer of “Above and Beyond: The Creation of the Israeli Air Force.” Her main challenger is Mike Flint with his “Angels in the Sky: The Birth of Israel.” His father, Mitchell, battled the Japanese in the skies of World War II before joining Israel’s famous 101st Squadron in 1948.
Spielberg, who lives in the Riverdale section of the Bronx, N.Y., and Flint, of Los Angeles, are facing competition from Boaz Dvir of the University of Florida in Gainesville, who has been working on “A Wing and a Prayer” since 2007.
The three films focus on the overseas pilots who made up 90 percent of the fledgling Israeli Air Force in the first desperate months after Israel declared its independence in May 1948. The pilots came mainly from English-speaking countries; nearly all of them were veterans of World War II. In Israel, they were officially members of Machal, the Hebrew acronym for “volunteers from outside the land.”
Of the four Spielberg siblings, Nancy is the most connected to Israel, having spent a year working on a religious kibbutz. About 10 years ago, the Hollywood grapevine had it that Steven Spielberg was planning a feature film on the genesis of the Israeli Air Force. So when Nancy started to become serious about her own project, she alerted her Academy Award-winning brother.
“I didn’t want to step on my big brother’s toes,” she said.
But Steven encouraged his sister to go ahead, contributed a modest amount toward her $1.3 million budget and noted that if her documentary was well received, it might inspire a feature film down the road.